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Glycerol or Glycerine: Is there a difference?

Glycerol and glycerine... it is not uncommon to observe in certain literature that these two names are often used to refer to the same thing and that they can be interchangeable. But are they used incorrectly?

Published October 29, 2023, updated on June 11, 2024, by Stéphanie, Doctorate in Life and Health Sciences — 3 min read

Glycerol and Glycerine, are they identical?

The terms "glycerine" and "glycerol" are used almost interchangeably, yet there is indeed a difference between these two concepts. Although they share the same chemical compound (C3H8O3), they are not as similar as one might think.


Glycerol, a purified molecule of glycerine, refers to an organic polyol compound in its pure form, directly present in the triglycerides of fats and oils. It is a three-carbon alcohol metabolite covalently linked to a hydroxyl group, which resembles a sugar and, at room temperature, is syrupy. It is a highly hygroscopic, viscous, odourless, transparent fluid with a mild sweet taste and non-toxic at low concentrations. There are three distinct processes used to produce glycerol.

  1. Through the complete synthesis of propylene via several pathways;

  2. Through the process of trans-esterification of oils or fats;

  3. Through alcoholic fermentation with yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Candida) and bacteria (Bacillus subtilis).

Glycerol is commonly used in a number of industrial applications, and can be taken orally as well as applied to the skin. In the food industry, it is used as a solvent, sweetener, humectant, and preservative. It is also used in the manufacture of nitroglycerin for the production of explosives. Due to its chemical properties, glycerol is included in antifreeze and anti-icing liquids. In the pharmaceutical field, it is used in the treatment of cerebral oedema, respiratory disorders, as a laxative (suppositories), as well as in cough syrups (expectorants).


The glycerine is the commercial name for glycerol and a by-product of the industrial-scale production of biofuels from oils or fats. It is a solution with over 95% glycerol and contains impurities in the form of methanol, water, salts, and free fatty acids. It has the same properties as glycerol. It is hygroscopic, virtually colourless, with diuretic and laxative osmotic effects. As a chemical compound, glycerine is a trihydroxy sugar alcohol. It shares the same chemical molecule with glycerol, propane-1,2,3-triol (HOH2C–CHOH–CH2OH), but glycerine is less pure. There are three extraction processes to obtain glycerine.

One of these is the hydrolysis of lipids, where oils are subjected to the combined force of pressure, temperature, and water. The glycerine separated from the fatty acids is absorbed by the water. Another solution is the trans-esterification (alcoholysis) of triglycerides contained in an oil/fat combined cold with an alcohol (ethanol or methanol). This method produces ethyl or methyl esters and glycerine with a high glycerol content. Finally, the saponification of fats and a caustic alkali (soda or potash) produces glycerine (about 20%) and a mixture of carboxylates, which constitutes soap. The glycerine is widely used in cosmetics to hydrate the skin, improve the barrier function and mechanical properties of the skin, accelerate the healing process and protect the skin against irritations.


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